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John Mauldin's Outside the Box

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  • Insolvency Too

    As readers know, I was in Europe a few weeks ago, making a LOT of presentations. My London-based partners seem to feel that an hour or two of down time is wasted and only for sissies. I learn as much as I impart, and come away with lots of interesting information. Every now and then I learn something that gets into the category of what in the wide, wide world of (multiple expletives deleted) economics is going on? Subprime was like that when I first read about it. Could you really design CDOs that were so patently absurd and then sell them to the Europeans and Asians? Turns out you could.

    Last week, Niels Jensen (head of Absolute Return Partners) and I were talking with a variety of pension funds. They started telling us about this thing called Solvency II. Outside the arcane world of European pension funds and insurance companies, it is not on the radar screen of most people. But it may be one of the more explosive problems in our future. Cutting to the chase, the new rules require insurance companies and pension funds to buy more bonds to match their liabilities. But as yields go down they are required to buy yet MORE bonds and then yields go down some more. And so on. The possibility of serious defaults by these same pension funds in the wake of these new rules (setting aside whether it makes sense to actually require pension funds to set aside enough assets to pay their obligations) is all too real. And more pervasive than we now think.

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  • Market Still Deluding Itself That It Can Escape The Inevitable Dénouement

    One of my favorite analysts is Albert Edwards of Societe Generale in London. Acerbic, witty and brilliant. Emphasis on brilliant. The fact that he is a Doppelganger for James Montier (who long time readers are well acquainted with) is a coincidence (or he would say vice versa). I only kind of have permission to forward this note to you, but better to ask forgiveness… So, this week he is our Outside the Box. And a short but good one he is.

    I am in Amsterdam and it is late, but deadlines have no time line. Tomorrow more work on the book. It is getting close to the end. Most books are finished when the authors quit in disgust. How many edits can you do? I am close.

    I wonder late at night, with maybe a few too many glasses of wine, why I feel like a book is so much more than an e-letter. Really? The last ten years of what I have written are on the archives. Good (ok, sometimes really good) is there. But some are an embarrassment. What was I thinking?

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  • Recession Continues to Batter State Budgets; State Responses Could Slow Recovery

    There were a lot of questions last week when I wrote about public pensions. So for this week’s Outside the Box, I offer you some more information about how bad the state deficit situation is, and for your specific state. States are having to cut more than 1% of national GDP in fiscal 2011, as federal stimulus money is slowly drying up. And that is just states. Local municipalities and schools have a similar problem. And then add on the possibility of the Bush tax cuts going away and that is a very serious situation. It is why I am so concerned and vocal about the need for the Bush tax cuts to be extended for at least one year until the economy is growing above stall speed. The headwinds from cities and states are severe, as you can see.

    Basically, the states were profligate going into the downturn, and they have enormous costs going forward, so even for 2011 and 2012 they are going to have massive budget deficits. Some, like Illinois and Nevada have shortfalls of 40-50%. That is simply not sustainable.

    The research is from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities at http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=711 . for those in the US, I think you will find it interesting to see how your state is doing. For those outside, look and see how much the problem is in terms of GDP and realize what impact that is going to have on the overall US economy.

    I am at the airport in Omaha with Trey on a trip looking at schools, and on to Illinois tonight. It is a lot cooler here than in Dallas, at least.

    Your data watching analyst,

    John Mauldin, Editor Outside the Box

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  • Is the Recession Over?

    There is some debate about whether the recession is over. The National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), a non-governmental organization made up of economists, has a committee that meets and decides after the fact when recessions begin and when they end. Martin Feldstein, the former president of the NBER, focusing on the job market, said last November that 'the current downturn is likely to last much longer than previous downturns ... We will be lucky to see the recession end in 2009.'

    I have called this recovery a Statistical Recovery, in that some of the normal metrics are only getting better in comparison to very bad numbers a year ago. It is likely that we will still have not recovered to the level of economic activity we enjoyed at the peak of the last cycle over two years ago on a nominal basis. This is highly unusual and lengthy for a recession.

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